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Spinal stenosis

Definition of spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis, also known as spinal narrowing, is a condition in which the spinal nerve passages are encroached upon, narrowing the available space. Typically, this occurs as the result of another spinal condition and results in painful symptoms when a nerve root becomes compressed.

How spinal stenosis is diagnosed

When experiencing any persistent back pain or other related symptoms, it’s important to consult with a doctor in order to get an accurate diagnosis. Your doctor may perform a physical exam of your back, review your medical history and ask you specific questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing. A CT scan, MRI test or X-ray may also be used to confirm the diagnosis and identify the exact location of the compressed nerve.

Causes of spinal stenosis

Spinal narrowing is often the result of an underlying spinal condition. For example, degenerative disc disease, herniated discs and bulging discs can all protrude into the spinal canal space. Bone spurs, which are small bony growths that develop from spinal osteoarthritis, can also grow into the spinal canal and take up space.

Certain factors can also increase an individual’s likelihood of developing spinal stenosis, including:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Being 50 years of age or older
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • A personal history of injuries to the spine

Spinal stenosis symptoms

Symptoms will appear when the narrowing of the spinal canal affects the spinal cord or a nerve root. While this condition can appear in the cervical (upper) spine and affect the shoulder and arm area, it is much more common in the lumbar (lower) spine. Lumbar spinal stenosis can cause symptoms that include:

  • Pain at the location of the compressed nerve
  • Traveling pain felt throughout the leg and foot
  • Numbness or tingling in the leg and foot area
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sciatica

When these symptoms appear, it’s important to consult a doctor to find the most appropriate treatment option for your condition.

Treatment for spinal stenosis

There are numerous nonsurgical treatment options available to help reduce symptoms of spinal stenosis. Many patients find that some combination of conservative treatments provides adequate symptom relief. These treatment options include:

  • Medications. Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs can help reduce pain and inflammation at the location of the compressed nerve.
  • Physical therapy or exercise. Low-impact exercises and stretching techniques can help strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine to reduce symptoms.
  • Alternative therapies. Some patients find that acupuncture, chiropractic care, hydrotherapy or therapeutic massage offer complementary symptom relief to physical activity and medication.

Minimally invasive surgery options

In some cases, symptoms persist despite the use of conservative treatments. In these situations, surgery to treat the underlying cause may be the next option your doctor recommends. At Laser Spine Institute, we specialize in minimally invasive outpatient procedures to treat spine conditions such as spinal stenosis. Minimally invasive spine surgery is an alternative to traditional open spine surgery that requires a smaller incision and muscle-sparing techniques, which allows our patients to benefit from a shorter recovery time^ and lower risk of complication compared to patients who choose traditional open spine surgery.

If you’d like to find out if you’re a candidate for minimally invasive surgery to treat spinal stenosis, contact Laser Spine Institute for a no-cost MRI review.*